Here is the uncomfortable truth for those, like me, who oppose Google and Verizon’s policy suggestion to the FCC concerning net neutrality: money talks and money walks. Investment and innovation in wireless networks, which are unquestionably the future of the Web, will accelerate if companies can expect a payoff.
The two companies’ joint proposal essentially exempts wireless networks from the level playing field that true net neutrality requires. There are many different scenarios under which this could affect companies and customers: some good, some bad. Take the recent Comcast v. FCC ruling where the government was told its authority did not sufficiently extend to prevent Comcast, an Internet service provider, from slowing users’ access to Bit Torrent sites. Comcast argued that users (illegally) downloading huge movie files slowed the network for other users. While the court’s ruling concentrated on the FCC’s jurisdiction, the case demonstrates an important though difficult truth for net neutrality proponents: some content is better than others.
The Comcast case is an example when net neutrality would have done more harm than good, especially given current copyright laws (don’t get me wrong—I would be sad to see Bit Torrent sites go). I can easily imagine cases where service providers might use their control over Internet access to exploit their customers. If your own cell phone provider (our future partners in Web access) hasn’t already tried to extort money from you, consider yourself in the minority (just type ‘f*ck Verizon’ into YouTube).
There are other scenarios in which net neutrality would create a level playing field for Internet startups and other businesses. Imagine if YouTube were able to pay Verizon a fee so that its videos would stream faster on Verizon’s network. In this case, a large company with large amounts of capital would have a distinct advantage over smaller businesses (such as this one) which have something equally valuable (if not more so) to offer Internet users.
The United States is already the major player in the world’s Internet market. Would its dominance end if consumers were given more rights? I doubt it. Would the pace of new technological development slow as a result of net neutrality? Quite possibly, but this is a compromise implicit in the regulation of industry, and one which we have recently recognized the importance of in the industries of banking, credit cards, real estate and finance. Let’s take a lesson from the recent past, why don’t we?